Tuesday, August 18, 2015

You can't force someone to care

Once someone starts feeling true empathy for animals, they usually realize that it's not alright to have these animals suffer and die for our benefit. Most people at this point either go vegetarian, or go vegan, the latter being even better when it comes to not partaking in the above-mentioned suffering. The next step, for many, is to try to change the way others think about eating meat, and to hopefully get them to see that they can indeed transition to a way of life that involves less animal suffering. The way we treat animals is not fair, so getting involved in this would be as valid as fighting against any other injustice. That said, there are more and less effective ways to do this, with the better way being the gentler way. While there is nothing gentle about the way animals are used and abused in our society, and while sometimes we want to scream at how blind someone is to the harm he or she causes, we should refrain from being harsh in our condemnation of people who have not yet gotten where we are, ethically speaking. Why? Because a real understanding that the life of all sentient beings is important is one of the hardest realizations to come to for most people. For some reason, speciesism is much more deep-seated than racism, sexism, and many other isms. While many can grasp what the concept is all about, to put it bluntly, many of the same people just don't care enough to change.

When someone goes vegan, he or she often forgets what it’s like to have the mind of a carnivore. For me, and for many others like me, it is clear as day that breaking free from the meat-machine is a good idea, that it's the right way to live. This is, however, not the case for most people who still eat meat. We all want these people to see the light, so to speak, but an angry vegan (or even an overly persistent one) may end up simply pissing someone like this off instead of getting them to change their diet. Instead of building a bridge, you may be building a gap between this person and their empathy. I've been that carnivore. About 90% or more of vegans have been that carnivore. If you embraced veganism as soon as you heard about it, congratulations! (seriously, not being sarcastic), but this is not the path that most people take to get there. For most people, it is really, really hard to stop being speciesist, to see all sentient life as equal, and to break free from life-long habits. I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that it is not worth trying to change this. Of course it is. We are the animals’ voice. But again, just be aware of the problem and don't get upset when someone doesn't get it when you compare a human baby to a baby chick, or even a baby kitten to a baby chick. People will listen, many will agree with you in principle, a few (not more) will change their diet, but the vast majority, including those that may agree with you on principle, will still continue eating meat. Why? Because, once again, speciesism is the hardest -ism for most people to understand, to feel, and to overcome.

The better approach is to try to change someone’s mind by being positive, by leading by example. Remember what it was like when you ate meat. Remember how hard it was for you to completely make that leap to what seemed like a totally different lifestyle. Tell people that it’s really not that different being vegan; that we eat a lot of great healthy food. Invite them over for dinner. If they insist of going vegetarian for a while, don’t give them the “no, you’re vegan or you’re a murderer” attitude. Someone who goes vegetarian after being a carnivore has taken an empathetic step forward. Although going vegan would be better, don’t forget to recognize the importance of that initial step. Remind them that you too were like them; that there was a time when you didn’t make the connection between animal suffering and the food you ate, or that you simply didn't care enough about that connection to stop eating meat. It’s important to remember, though, that no matter how eloquent, logical, and well-presented your arguments for a cruelty-free diet, you will hear a lot of excuses about why someone will still eat meat. Some vegans get frustrated with the excuses, and try to argue against them, which usually causes our carnivorous friends to come up with even more of them. Here's the real reason for all the excuses: Many people simply don't care enough about animals to stop eating them, but consciously or subconsciously, they don't want to come off as callous, so they come up with excuses because an excuse justifies this lack of compassion and respect for life, without actually calling it by its name. It deflects the blame. Adding to many vegans' frustration, is that these people might feel selective empathy for some animals, but not others. Again, though it's illogical why someone would love a cat, but not care about a pig, most people embrace this selective respect for animal life. As frustrating as it may seem sometimes, you can't force someone to care. We can try to help them along, but, ultimately, they have to get to that point themselves.

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